Welcome to the future. We now live in a time where you can find something interesting on the internet and in a few minutes have a small plastic version of it on your desk. 3D printing is exactly as it sounds, printing something from your computer in 3D. If You’re not somebody who follows technology much beyond the latest phones, TVs and iPads then you may not know much about 3D printers.
A 3D Printer is a simple concept, you have 3 Axis X, Y, and Z. Your print head (kind of like the print head in your ink printer) moves on each axis to dispense plastic (PLA or ABS) and form your 3D model. There are some consumer ready models coming down the pipeline from people like Printerbot, Makerbot, and various others. 3D Printers can range in price depending on how complex they are build, if you have to build them yourself, and the accuracy of the machine. The Printrbot Simple is about $350 before shipping (although you are looking at hefty build time) and is one of the cheaper and smaller models.
3D printing is not just for engineers, makers, and architects. You can use these devices to bring your art to life too. Imagine having a quick way to replace any bracket, or broken piece in your house at any time. You are only limited by the amount of filament you have.
The Printrbot Simple
At Bold we got out hands on the new 2014 model of the Printrbot Simple, an affordable and small 3D printer that makes it easy to prototype at home or at your desk in the office. The Printrbot Simple (Maker edition) requires some assembly but if you liked LEGO as a kid then this will bring back some memories. The total build time for me was about 5 hours including mistakes.
Assembling the device was not bad. It took me a while be as I followed the directions it didn’t take long for the box of parts to start looking like a weird machine that would eventually start printing plastic versions of the 3D models I had on my computer. There are plenty of small wooden parts but as long as you follow the instructions you wont have too many hang ups.
In my opinion the most difficult part of the build was getting the line around the x axis. The x axis and the y axis are both controlled by a motor with a small sanding pad glued onto a plastic tube attached to it with nylon fishing line wrapped around it and attached to a piece of wood on either side. The y axis as yet to be a problem for me however the x axis is a different story. I don’t know if it is because it is lower down and the orientation of the piece it is pulling is different from the y axis but it seems to be that every so often (4 times so far after 2 days of printing) it pulls off the sanding pad. This is super annoying if I am in the middle of a print. Here are a few pictures from building the device.
The software I use to print is Repetier. It is free and generally pretty easy to use. There are only a few steps to doing a basic print. This inclus grabbing an STL file, slicing up the model with Slic3r to generate the G Code which is sent to the printer and tells the machine which axis to move to and when. Repeteir is also used to set your settings like fan speed (if your model as a fan), heat bed, extruder heat and some settings like skirt size and how long to wait until the fan is turned on.
Building the device is the easy part. The hard part is definitely calibrating the machine. If you follow the instructions found online, you can get pretty close to a good print. I am still tweaking ours to see how accurate I can get the print. In a couple days I have gone from a squiggly mess to a somewhat nice looking plastic print. There are a couple calibration prints you can download like the 5mm calibration cube, or Mr. Narwhale.
Another good way to check the calibration for your machine is to download this calibration cube and measure the inside area and size of the object. There are a few steps to doing this.
Add a Brim of 3mm
Setting fill_density = 0.0 will create a hollow cube
Slic3r calculates the extrusion width = 0.39; wall = 2 * 0.39 = 0.78mm
- Print the cube.
- Measure the wall thickness = 0.85 mm (sample).
- Calculate the new Extrusion multiplier = 0.78/(0.85 * 0.98) = 0.94.
- Set the new Extrusion multiplier value and slice the cube again.
- Repeat step 1 to 5 until the thickness is 0.78 mm +/- a small tolerance.
Here is the code if you are not using Repetier to control your printer.
; layer_height = 0.25 ; perimeters = 2 ; top_solid_layers = 0 ; bottom_solid_layers = 2 ; fill_density = 0.0 ; perimeter_speed = 40 ; infill_speed = 60 ; travel_speed = 180 ; scale = 1 ; nozzle_diameter = 0.35 ; filament_diameter = 1.75 ; extrusion_multiplier = 0.98
You can also download my configuration file to import into yours right here: Simple.ini
The speed and quality of your print is up to you. It is generally good to slow down your print at first to make sure it is calibrated. You will need to explore things like heat and fan speed to see how you can get it printing. There is always room for mistake but as you get more used to using the software it gets easier to print. One thing that you wouldn’t think about is the surface you are printing on. I am using generic blue designers tape (the same stuff you can get at Home Depot) as a surface because I am printing with PLA plastic. You can use a lot of different surfaces and I have even seen people using old iPad screens to print on.
After a weekend full of printing I have finally got a couple good prints. Here is a time lapse video of my Mr. Narwhale print.
I am pretty certain that 3D printers are going to get cheaper and easier to use as well as more common in the home. There are already some more expensive printers that basically auto level and can print in multiple colours. The Printrbot Simple is a simple version of what could be and I am excited to see what I can do with it. Of course right now these machines might seem extremely technical and like something you might not see yourself owning but it is certainly something that you could use every day.
Here is a collection of videos for the prints that didn’t quite work out. (for your amusement)